416. ‘Mull of Kintyre’ / ‘Girls’ School’, by Wings

It is amazing to think that, almost eight years on from their split, this is only the second time an ex-Beatle has appeared at the top of the charts. You’d have got long odds on it taking this length of time. George Harrison got in there quickly, and then there was a big old wait… Until our latest Christmas #1.

Mull of Kintyre / Girls’ School, by Wings (their 1st and only #1)

9 weeks, from 27th November 1977 – 29th January 1978

And it’s strangely comforting to hear Macca’s voice again, like a long lost friend… Mull of Kintyre, Oh mist rolling in from the sea, My desire, Is always to meet you… It’s just him, and a couple of guitars. Simplicity itself. Until ninety seconds in, when the bagpipes arrive (I always assumed they were saved for the finale. Alas, no.) They enter with that unmistakeable, ominous drone, and by the three minute mark they are the stars of the show. It is amazing to think that, in the 1970s, as many #1 singles featured bagpipes as featured a Beatle.

‘Mull of Kintyre’ is not an old folk song, though it sounds for all the world as if it should be. It is further evidence of McCartney’s ability to conjure timeless pop from a few chords (and a cheeky slice of ‘Auld Lang Syne’). It is not ‘Yesterday’, nor is it ‘Eleanor Rigby’, but it is a huge moment in his legacy. And yet…

As a Scot, part of me bristles at this act of cultural appropriation… (You may roll your eyes, but hear me out.) It’s a nice song, a sweet melody, a love-letter by Paul to his adopted home (he really was living, while he wrote this, on the Mull of Kintyre). But the lines about mist rolling in from the sea and sweeping through the heather like deer in the glen… It’s the aural equivalent of a souvenir shortbread box. It’s Scotland as imagined by American, or Japanese, (or Liverpudlian) tourists. It’s #notmyscotland. You can also imagine John Lennon hearing this for the first time, on the radio one morning, and ruefully shaking his head…

Still, come the drum-roll and the key change, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ has wormed its way into your brain. You can see why this is was a ginormous hit – a song that appeals to five-year-olds, ninety-five-year olds, and anyone who’s had enough whisky. Its nine weeks at the top makes it the joint longest running #1 of the decade, alongside ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and an upcoming movie soundtrack hit. It became the biggest selling single ever in the UK, usurping ‘She Loves You’, and it remains the biggest selling non-charity single ever released.

I did wonder if, by hitting #1 in late November, this was the earliest an Xmas #1 had made it to the top. But it’s not even close. Al Martino got there two weeks earlier in 1952, as did Clean Bandit in 2016, while Elvis’s ‘It’s Now or Never’ holds the record by holding on from November 3rd. However, this record also stayed top for over a month after Christmas thanks, it seems, to the flip-side…

‘Girls’ School’ is a rocker, all scuzzy slide guitars and heavy drums, as far removed from the faux-folk of ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as can be. SongFacts describes it as ‘semi-pornographic’, and that’s putting it mildly. While your grandma would have enjoyed singing along to ‘Mull…’, she may have choked on her sherry when she heard this one. Sleepy head kid sister, Lying on the floor, Eighteen years and younger boy, Well she knows what she’s waitin’ for…

It seems the nuns have lost control of the convent school… Yuki, the resident mistress and oriental princess, is showing porn in the classroom. The Spanish nurse is running a full-body massage parlour, while the matron is drugging the kids in their beds at night, and then… Well that much is left to the imagination… Ah, what can the sisters do…?

I’m loving-yet-appalled-by this post-‘Mull…’ palate cleanser. It is pure rock ‘n’ roll, both in terms of its sound and its lyrical content (which would come under, shall we say… ‘scrutiny’ were it released in 2021). I think someone was having a good old chuckle to themselves when they stuck this alongside such a shamelessly sentimental ‘A’-side. It does seem, too, that McCartney may have swept it under the carpet in recent years. It’s not on Spotify, for a start.

Although this is his first #1 since The Beatles, it’s not as if Paul had been hiding under a rock since ‘Let It Be’. Wings were a huge chart force throughout the seventies, featuring Paul, his wife Linda, Denny Laine (whom we have heard from before as a member of The Moody Blues) and a rotating cast of supporters. This was their 10th Top 10 hit, but the only one to go all the way. Macca will be back, though, in the 80s, with a couple of chart-toppers to make ‘Mull of Kintyre’ sound like the epitome of cool, cutting edge pop.

382. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, by Queen

I have to admit, I’ve been putting off writing this entry. I mean, A) How do you say anything about ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that hasn’t been said before? And B) When are you ever in the mood to sit and listen to it on repeat? (Though actually, I could probably play this one from beginning to end, in my head, from memory…)

Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen (their 1st of six #1s)

9 weeks, from 23rd November 1975 – 25th January 1976

I can remember hearing this record for the first time. That must mean something, right? That must be proof of this song’s place in our lives? I was at the kitchen table, aged seven or so, playing with some Lego, and my dad was playing this, loud. And singing. My dad does not normally play music loud, or sing. So seven-year-old me sat up and took notice. What was this record that had turned my father into a headbanger?

Is this the real life, Is this just fantasy…? If I had to rate the three parts (or is it four?) of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the first would be my favourite. Freddie’s voice… Mama, Just killed a man… and his luxuriant piano. The singer is haunted by his past, his crimes, and is setting out alone. Mama, Ooh-ooooh-ooh… If that was it, if this were a three-minute ballad, it’d still be great. But, of course, that is not it. ‘Tis but the amuse-bouche.

In comes Brian May, with the most outrageous piece of guitaristry in a #1 single since ‘Voodoo Chile’, and then… You know what comes next. This is the bit I remember hearing as a kid. You do have to step back and applaud the fact that the band managed to sandwich this bit into a pop single. In terms of the story, it represents, I think, the singer’s inner torment at what he’s done. Beelzebub, Has a devil put aside, For ME!

Then comes the head-banging section, the Wayne’s World bit, my second favourite part. It’s proper hard rock, almost heavy metal – a sound that we have very rarely heard in any of the previous 381 chart-toppers. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ really is a deeply strange strong, and a bizarre #1. But it is also so much a part of the furniture that people no longer stop to wonder what the hell it’s about. Is it a tale of a Faustian pact? Is it Mercury coming to terms with his sexuality? Or is it, as the band maintain, all nonsense?

And, for then the coda, it’s back to Freddie and his piano. The clincher. Any way the wind blows… Done, and exhale. The stories around the song’s recording and release are well-known: the record execs’ reluctance, Kenny Everett playing it on repeat… I enjoyed the scene in the recent movie – a movie that wasn’t as bad as everyone made out – where the band wonder if Freddie’s lost his mind while recording the Galileo! Galileo! part.

People always name ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as one of the longest songs ever, and certainly one of the longest #1s. But it’s barely six minutes long, and feels even shorter, ranking it pretty far down the ‘long number ones’ list. Even ‘I’m Not In Love’, from earlier in 1975, went on for ten seconds more. What was long was its stay at the top of the charts. No record has spent nine weeks at #1 since ‘Rose Marie’ managed eleven, twenty years back. Add to that the fact that it will be back on top shortly after Freddie Mercury’s death, and we’re looking at one of the longest-running #1s, ever.

In my post on ‘Space Oddity’ – isn’t it amazing to think that these two classic records so nearly met one another atop the charts! – I named David Bowie as an artist woefully represented by his chart-toppers. Well, to that short list add Queen, who will only have two more before they lose their frontman, and then descend into some highly questionable duets by the turn of the century. All that to come…

Anyway, after I wrap this up I will go back to never choosing to listening to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, just hearing it by osmosis (and when forced to join in with it at karaoke nights…) I don’t hate it – it is an amazing piece of music – and yet I think it works best as a memory, of me aged seven, staring open-mouthed at my dad moshing around the living-room.

363. ‘Down Down’, by Status Quo

Into 1975, then… And with a big ‘hell yes!’, because look. ‘Tis the Quo!

Down Down, by Status Quo (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 12th – 19th January 1975

It’s not a very Status Quo-like intro though: it’s light and jangly, almost Baroque, if that isn’t going too far… But then in it comes, the trademark Status Quo chug. They get a bit of stick – most of it completely undeserved – for sticking by this chugging three-chord formula throughout most of their career. But for their one and only UK chart-topper, it had to be there. Get down, Deeper and down, Down down, Deeper and down… That’s the chorus – I’m listening to the lyrics properly for the very first time – I want all the world to see, To see your laughin’, And your laughin’ at me… And that’s the first verse. It’s a tale of a couple trapped in a relationship-gone-very-wrong, and the singer seems hell-bent on mutual destruction. I know what you’re doing, What you’re doing to me, I’ll keep on and say to you, Again, again, again, again…

I suppose you have to get the idea of ‘getting down’ equalling dancing out your heads. That’s why the band didn’t call the song ‘Get Down’ (that and the fact that Gilbert O’Sullivan had had a #1 by that title a couple of years before.) ‘Down Down’, refers to the fact that the couple are dragging one another down into the mire. They really should split up, or at least take a break, but nope. Down they go. It’s a nasty idea for a rock song, backed up by a nasty, tight, gloriously repetitive riff.

Anyway, that was some very in-depth analysis of a Status Quo song. Let’s stop all that, and just enjoy this moment for what it is: one of Britain’s greatest and most successful rock ‘n’ roll band’s solitary week atop the charts. With one of their best singles. One of their heaviest, too. You can split Status Quo’s career into roughly three parts: the psychedelic years of the late sixties, the heavy blues rock of the early seventies, and the glossier, poppier boogie-woogie rock of the late seventies, eighties and beyond. ‘Down Down’ comes at the end of Part II, but it is still one of the heaviest songs to have topped the charts so far.

I love the frenzied fade-out, with the sledgehammer riff boring its way into your eardrums as it goes. (The album version drags it out much longer, with some bass flourishes, for good measure.) And I love Status Quo. I love that they just keep on keeping on, never caring about being cool, just rocking and rolling, rolling and rocking, despite even founder member Rick Parfitt’s death in 2016. They’ve released over one hundred singles, twenty-two of them reaching the Top 10. And they have a new tour just waiting to go, once the pandemic is over. They are legends.

And I wish this wasn’t the only chance I get to write about them. Hell, I’ll do a Status Quo Top 10, soon, just because I can. (They will be involved, uncredited, in one other chart-topper, in the mid-90s, but it is genuinely awful and I can’t bring myself to mention it until I absolutely have to…) I’ve been listening to them since I was a kid, and they are still a go to on the home commute after a hard day. In fact, I might be getting carried away but… I don’t think there’s a more enjoyably unpretentious listening experience to be had than their ‘Anniversary Waltz’ – a ten minute medley of old rock ‘n’ roll covers. Here’s a link… Rock on.

Before we get into 1975, why not listen to (almost) every number one since 1952…

331. ‘Can the Can’, by Suzi Quatro

I promised you more glam, and is there anything more glam than the ascending drums ‘n’ guitar intro on this next number one?

Can the Can, by Suzi Quatro (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 10th – 17th June 1973

But when the vocals come in, we take a leap forward. For this is rock music… sung by a woman! The girls are getting in on the act! (I hope they finished the washing-up first, etc etc…)

Like all the best glam rock singles, ‘Can the Can’ is about the sound and the attitude first and foremost, with trifling matters such as ‘lyrics that make sense’ coming a distant second. How else to explain a chorus that goes: So make a stand for your man, honey, Try to can the can… Put your man in the can, honey, Get him while you can… Can the can!

According to songwriters, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also wrote for chart-topping artists like the Sweet and Mud, it is about attempting the impossible. About trying to snag your guy and hold on to him against all the competition. Quatro sums it up best when she screeches, just before the chorus: Scratch out her eyes!!!! You can picture her, in her jumpsuit, outside the pub at closing time, launching herself at some slapper who’s just looked at her bloke the wrong way…

Meanwhile, the guitar work is pretty great. The lead cries out like the tigers and the eagles in the lyrics, while Suzie’s bass keeps us chugging along. By the end, when the barroom piano is keeping pace alongside, this has become the heaviest, most raucous #1 single since ‘School’s Out’. Forget glam, this is some pretty darn hard rock.

Imagine being a teenage girl in 1973, and seeing twenty-three year old Suzi rock up to Top of the Pops in her leather jumpsuit and tomboyish hair. It must have been thrilling, seeing her rock out like one of the guys. This was her first single to make the charts, so she really would have come out of nowhere. Similarly, imagine being a teenage boy in 1973, and seeing twenty-three year old Suzi rock up to Top of the Pops in her leather jumpsuit and tomboyish hair… There must have been many a, shall we say, ‘awakening’. (You know, man, they say she’s naked under there…)

After repeated listening, and after having it explained to me by the songwriters, I’m still not sure what the hell ‘Can the Can’ means. But I am confident that it does not matter one bit. Any song with the a yelled Scratch out her eyes! as a refrain is alright by me. Plus, Suzi Quatro is the first solo female to top the charts in nearly two years (!), since ‘I’m Still Waiting’ by Diana Ross. From that, to this. You can see why Quatro was an influence on everyone from Joan Jett and Girlschool, through to Goldfrapp and KT Tunstall. And she still has one more chart-topper to come! Yay!

317. ‘School’s Out’, by Alice Cooper

Aw, hell yeah! School heartthrob Donny Osmond finds himself elbowed out the way by school bad boy, and shock-rocker supreme, Alice Cooper. No more mister nice guy indeed!

D5rMk28WAAAr1nl

School’s Out, by Alice Cooper (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 6th – 27th August 1972

The charts of 1972 continue to swing wildly: acoustic ballad to glam to teeny bopper pap to this. Some anarchic hard rock. And it’s a great record, right from the start. The riff rings out, loud and clear, before the drums and the bass are added. (There are three songs that I cannot tell apart for the first five seconds or so: this, ‘Born to Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf, and Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’. They don’t even sound that similar, so I’m not really sure why I have this problem…)

Vince Furnier said in an interview that in ‘School’s Out’ he was trying to capture the last three minutes of the school year which, along with Christmas morning, is the best moment of a child’s life: the nervous tension, the excitement, the sense that wonderful chaos is just around the corner. I’d say he managed it. Well we got no choice, All the girls and boys, Make all the noise, Cos they’ve found new toys…

There are famously no real punk-rock #1s… Is this, then, the first and only punk #1, several years before anyone knew what ‘punk’ was? It soon becomes clear that this isn’t just a song about two months of sun and no homework; it’s an anarchist’s manifesto. School’s out for summer… then it’s out for ever… then it’s been blown to pieces. The playground chants in between the verses move from No more pencils… To We might not come back at all…

R-15604226-1594390979-2958.jpeg

The best bit is the second verse, with its word-play: Well we got no class, And we principles… and the so dumb its actually pretty clever last line: We can’t even think of a word that rhymes! And then there’s the final verse – perhaps the heaviest moment in a #1 single so far – where the lead guitar squeals, and the drums beat out a pounding, tribal rhythm, as if the kids have rounded up all the teachers for a ritual sacrifice. Morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse managed to get it banned from featuring on ‘Top of the Pops’, an act for which Furnier sent her a bouquet of flowers in thanks for the free publicity.

‘School’s Out’ was the breakthrough hit for Alice Cooper, who had been seen as a bit of a novelty act until then with all their make-up and on stage pyrotechnics (they were friends of Arthur Brown). And actually, maybe ‘School’s Out’ still suffers from being seen as a novelty song, when in actual fact it’s a great hard rock track. The band would score a few more Top 10s off the back of this, before ‘Alice Cooper’ became Vince Furnier’s solo act. His biggest hit will arrive many years later: ‘Poison’ coming oh so close to the top in 1989.

In the end the bell rings, everybody cheers and then we all get sucked into a blackhole, a cool effect that caps off a startlingly fresh sounding #1 single. OK, in the end it might not quite be ‘punk’, but I’ll bet it felt amazing blasting this record out on the final day of 1972’s summer term. And speaking as a teacher, I have to say that this song speaks more to me now than it ever did as a kid…

315. ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’, by Slade

As great as our last chart-topper ‘Vincent’ was, you wouldn’t want to listen to it every day. Thank God, then, for Slade, getting us back into a hard-rocking, glam-boogying groove.

Slade 00

Take Me Back ‘Ome, by Slade (their 2nd of six #1s)

1 week, from 25th June – 2nd July 1972

Their first number one, ‘Coz I Luv You’, was great but, as I noted at the time, it didn’t sound like the Slade that would go on to grab the charts by the balls. Their second chart-topper, though, sounds 100% like Slade. We’ve got Noddy hollering, a nasty riff, and some

Imagine the scene: closing time at a pub in Wolverhampton. Last orders, in more ways than one. Noddy needs a girl for the night, so he gets a wooing. Came up to you one night, Noticed the look in your eyes, Saw you was on your own, And it was alright… He has a way with words to rival Mungo Jerry and their attempts on ‘Baby Jump’: You and your bottle of brandy, Both of you smell the same… Is she really as rough as she sounds, or is he just a brute? Either way, I love the complete and utter lack of glamour.

So take me back home, Take me back home, And we can find plenty to do, And that will be alright… It’s an unsophisticated song. The hook is simply Holder drawing out his ‘all-rights’ in a sneery way. But, it’s great. I kept thinking that the riff sounded familiar, and then I realised that it simply sounds like 50% of Oasis’s mid-nineties output. (They always get the Beatles comparisons, but to me they ripped Slade off just as much. Anyway, more on Oasis in twenty years or so.)

SLADE_TAKE+ME+BAK+OME+-+WIDE-686833

By the second verse, the handclaps have turned into terrifying horse-whips, increasing the glam-stop even further. And by the third verse, the girl’s boyfriend, who’s twice the size of Noddy, has turned up. I didn’t stay around to say goodnight… But it was alright… We fade out with Holder trying to punch through brick walls with his voice, then doing his best Marc Bolan stutter.

So Slade are a-go. Although I’d rank ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’ more alongside the Stones’ bluesy numbers from the sixties, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Little Red Rooster’ and the like, than  the pure glam that was to come. Few #1s have been as low-down and dirty as this. But, I like that this came just two weeks after T. Rex’s final chart-topper, ‘Metal Guru’, and that it feels like a passing of the glam-rock flame. Slade were now poised to become the biggest band in the country, and we’ll hear a lot more from them in the next year and a half.

293. ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Our last number one had the title ‘Woodstock’, but didn’t really get going in terms of capturing the feel of the planet’s biggest ever music festival… But now… Now we have a song that people actually heard. At Woodstock. Performed by one of the weekend’s most famous acts…

1_m7nepYvCfBLqnI4WfkUcXA

Voodoo Chile, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 15th – 22nd November 1970

It starts with a riff – a riff that everyone has heard – and a tickle from the drum kit. And then, the moment when the twangy, chicka-chucka intro to ‘Voodoo Chile’ cuts out and we slam into the brutally simple main riff is genuinely one of the most thrilling seconds in any chart-topping single. Hard rock from the ultimate rock star. A brilliantly heavy, undiluted record at the top of the pop charts.

Well I stand up next to a mountain, And I chop it down with the edge of my hand… If you’re ever feeling down, ahead of a tough day, I’d recommend putting this on in your headphones and stepping out of the door just as Jimi sings that line… Cause I’m a voodoo child, Lord knows I’m a voodoo child… It’s a badass song, with a badass message. I didn’t mean to take up too much of your sweet time, I’ll give it right back to ya one of these days… Haha… What exactly is a ‘voodoo child’? Dunno, but it doesn’t sound like something you’d want in the house.

Not that the lyrics make up much of this song. There’s an electrifying solo between the first and second verses. And then the whole second half is given over to some serious head-banging and wah-wah pedalling. It might sound like Hendrix showing off, if it didn’t sound so damn good. It’s controlled chaos, a record that sounds like a live-recording, bottled lightning. And it really makes use of your stereo speakers, with the riffs chasing one another left to right, back and forth…

R-556557-1148199414.jpeg

(coolest single artwork so far, by far!)

God this is good. I knew ‘Voodoo Child’, of course, but it’s not in ‘overplayed’ territory for me. I really should listen to more Hendrix. By November 1970, when he grabbed his one and only week at #1, he was already dead, having joined the 27 Club two months earlier. The line: If I don’t meet you no more in this world, I’ll meet ya on the next one, And don’t be late…! makes it a very appropriate posthumous hit. It’s a shame that it took his death to get him to the top, though he had scored big, Top 10 hits consistently following his debut in 1966 with ‘Hey Joe’.

But who cares why this got to number one. Let’s just rejoice in the fact that it did. It ends abruptly, ricocheting to silence all of a sudden, and you get the feeling it could have been much longer. This ‘Voodoo Chile’ was based on a fifteen minute long, much more laid-back and bluesy, song of the same name that featured on his ‘Electric Ladyland’ album. This version was a reprise – the very last track on the LP – hence the ‘Slight Return’ on the track listing. It should actually be ‘Voodoo Child’, but the record company misnamed it when they released it.

While we wonder just what else 1970 has in store for us in this most schizophrenic of years, we should probably make a confession. At the start I billed this as the pinnacle of Woodstock, by its biggest star. Only problem is… Thanks to bad weather and technical issues, Hendrix actually went on stage at 08:30 on the Monday morning, after most people had begun to pack up and head home. The 500,000 strong crowd had dwindled to around 40,000. But what the hell, who cares. Let’s rewrite history, and imagine him playing this as the sun set, half a million extremely high people swaying along…

Find me on Spotify here.